For normal folks, foot spas are an awesome way to relax, melt away stress and get some therapeutic benefits too. But what if you have diabetes?
Can a diabetic use a foot spa?
The short and general answer is, sadly, No. If you have diabetes, soaking your foot for an extended period of time in warm or hot water is NOT recommended as diabetics have loss of feeling and sensation in their nerves and muscles.
The problem with diabetic feet
In the UK alone, 135 people a week undergo amputations due to diabetes. This can range from losing a toe or part of a foot in a minor amputation or having a foot or part of the leg totally cut off.
The root cause is diabetics suffering from neuropathy or nerve damage. The symptoms are:
- loss of feeling or numbness
- pain or tingling
- wasting of the muscles
Out of all the parts of the body, the feet are most affected by neuropathy because their nerves are the longest in the body. Loss of sensation is a huge problem. Pain is a signal for us when we hurt our body. If you can’t feel pain, you won’t know if your feet are already injured or hurt.
Dr. Bresta Miranda-Palma of the Diabetes Research Institute recounts, “I’ve seen people walk on a nail for weeks until infection has developed.”
When you have diabetic neuropathy, you are at risk for conditions ranging from sores, injuries, infections, and even gangrene.
About 60 to 70% of those with diabetes are affected by neuropathy. You are at a higher risk for nerve disorders due to diabetes if you are older, have had it for longer, if you have problems controlling your blood sugar, or if you’re overweight.
Why a diabetic should avoid foot soaks
There are a handful of complications that can arise if a diabetic suffering from nerve damage, especially one who lives alone, soaks their feet for a long time in a foot spa.
- You won’t be able to tell if the water is too hot. You can scald yourself and you won’t know it.
- Soaking sloughs skin more easily away from the feet. This might cause a break in your skin that may go unnoticed.
- After a foot soak, diabetic feet are more likely to become drier after the water has evaporated – especially if you used herbs or bath salts. Diabetic feet are drier than normal feet and may suffer from cracks and pain post-soak.
- Warm water may increase inflammation which is detrimental to your foot health.
- Some foot spas come with rollers and massagers. You may rub the skin of your feet raw without your knowing it.
Overall, the risks are higher than the potential gains. If you have diabetes, we recommend passing up on foot soaks altogether.
An alternative to foot spas
If you have a person who looks after you and your health, and you have the blessing of your doctor, a better alternative to foot spas are the following:
- Use lotion or moisturizers to soften feet (but do NOT apply in between toes; these areas should be dry!)
- Massage your moisturized feet with a simple hand massage
- Elevate your feet and wiggle your toes for 5 minutes at least 2 to 3 times daily. Rotate your ankles clockwise and counter clockwise for good measure.
The next time you get asked, “Can a diabetic use a foot spa?”, you can refer them to this foot care video.